The bed is overbuilt, a structure of dimension lumber and carriage bolts. It has a sturdy set of steps up to the top bunk. Two standard twin-sized mattresses are about eight inches shorter than the plywood they sit on. It’s painted yellow, with pictures of cacti and horses. Words, stickers, and other pictures have been added over the years with black, green, and red Sharpies.
The bed’s an amateur affair. The corners aren’t quite square. There are deep holes where nails hold together pieces of the bed. The paint is clearly house paint.
I built the bed for my son before he came to us. We wanted him to feel welcome. Yellow was his favorite color. He dreamed of being a cowboy. He called himself “ND the Cowboy.”
Getting him to us was not an easy task. We had gone through a year of Missouri Department of Social Services classes. They convened on Thursday nights for three hours. We had to be on time, to the second. The convener locked the doors at 6:30. It was part of the deal. If we were going to be parents to a kid, we had to show we were responsible. Being on time, every time, was part of that.
We did just what we were told. We filled in the worksheets, watched the slideshows, and took part in discussions. We signed the documents. For our efforts, we got a certificate that stated, in fact, we had completed the program and we were certified adoptive parents.
A host of psychologists and social workers visited our house. They looked us over and considered us closely. We had what seemed like scores of meetings. Did we have the right personalities? Was our marriage solid? Could we take on the responsibilities of parenthood? We childproofed everything and put all the household chemicals in cabinets above the counters. We bought fire extinguishers and planned for home evacuation on a schematic of the house’s floor plan. Lists of relatives and doctors hung on the wall in prominent places.
During the year, we had little contact with Nicholas. He was living with my parents in Reno, Nevada. My parents often asked Nick if he wanted to talk to his aunt and uncle. He demurred. He didn’t know us from Adam. All we really had were pictures.
In the weeks before he came, we prepared the room and tried to make it so he could feel he owned it, that it would be his private space.
I bought dimension lumber from the local hardware store, two-by-fours for the posts, struts, and rails, two-by-sixes for the bunks, plywood for the platforms for the mattresses. Since I really don’t know that much about constructing things out of wood, I bought what I thought I needed: nails, carriage bolts, glue. With it all in a pile in the basement, I started sawing, nailing, and screwing.
What I made was probably the sturdiest bunk bed in this part of the city. I used nails for most of the construction and carriage bolts for where the two-by-six foundations for the mattress platforms intersected with the posts. I painted it all. Virginia used acrylics to paint deserts scenes and cowboy images on part of the bed. I built it in two halves, the bottom and the top. I even drilled the posts of the bed so short metal dowels would hold one bunk on top of the other.
When it was completed, my good friends Rob and Ken came over to help me carry it up from the basement and assemble it in the room. The bottom bunk was no problem. It slipped into the room without a problem and we were proud of ourselves. The top bunk, however, took some serious effort. It had stout rails attached to the sides.
I have a good sense of space. I hauled furniture into and out of offices, houses, and hotel rooms for two years. Edging things in and around corners gave me good practice in fitting just about anything through a door—without scratching the furniture or the door jambs.
Ken, Rob, and I laid the top bunk on its side in the narrow hallway leading to the bedrooms in the house. I did not, in fact, would not disassemble what I had put together and painted so carefully. I knew it would fit. We jiggled, scooted, and lifted. We pulled the head of the thing in and out of the door many times.
It won’t fit, they said. I insisted it would fit, goddammit. Just let’s try again. Rob and Ken were champs. They put up with my obsession. It will fit. It will fit.
And it did. The bed squirted through the door on what we considered our last effort before I’d have to get a hammer and start thinking things apart. It fit. Exactly. There was no tolerance, not a fraction of an inch.
We flew to Reno to pick Nick up and bring him home. It was January 1, 2007. We had a week of meetings with more psychologists and social workers. We met with officials from the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services. We ferried from office to office, sometimes three times a day.
My parents did most of the driving. In the meantime, we got to Nick a little. He knew that we were his new parents. His four-and-a-half-year-old mind thought it an adventure. We took him to lunch, played with him in his room at my parents’ house. We spent the last two days in Reno at a hotel, where we had a great time in the pool.
There was only one moment of angst. Nick decided he didn’t want to go down the hotel restaurant and threw a fit. The frenzy he ascended into was breathtaking. He ran around the room, grabbing pieces of furniture and throwing them over. I had to lock the door because he wanted to run out in the hallway. I stood at the door and prevented him from getting at it.
After a while it ran its course. He collapsed into an exhausted pile of little kid. The tension left the room. We went down to dinner. After a few minutes at the table, Nick looked as if nothing had happened.
When we got him home, we let him look around the house, see things for himself. Then, we took him into his room. He had a chest of drawers painted in different colors. He stood for a minute. “You mean this is mine?” he said.
“Sure, this is all yours,” Virginia said.
He looked up at me and took my hand. He waited a minute and then let go. He jumped into his bed. “My bed?” he said. We told him that, of course, it was his bed. He climbed up and dove into the top bunk.
Over the years, he’s had friends over for the night, making the bunk bed useful. He spent innumerable hours in the top bunk reading for school and for fun. He’s drawn pictures on the bed with sharpies and written notes that say, “Nick rules this room” and “Nick’s bed.” He’s scribbled on the underside of the top bunk scrawls, animals, and messages to his sister—“Sydney’s a fartknocker.”
Ten years and more have passed since he first stood in his room. He’s turned 15 and is changing. He has begun sleeping in the guest room, where he has a desk for homework. His bedroom only has one window and the back room is bigger and brighter. He’s graduated from the affairs of children and into the world of men. He’s outgrown a yellow bunk bed with cowboy pictures and horses.
We talk now of moving his stuff into the back room and turning his bedroom into a guestroom and office for me. I just walked into his bedroom and understand just what kind of work that will be. Toys and books he’s now too old for sit on the bookcase. His closet is filled with clothes that don’t fit anymore. It reminds me of how I felt as a new dad and how young he used to be. A decade come and gone.
I will have to take apart what I once put together. The bed will become a pile of wood on the curb–the start of a new era.